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Here's the real reason we can't renationalise the railways

Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham have both pledged to renationalise the railways - but we can't do that while we're in the European Union, says Kate Hoey. 

As we approach the end of Labour’s leadership contest one of the most interesting things about the last few weeks has been the resurgence of policy ideas that many had thought Labour had confined to the rubbish bin.

Take the nationalisation of the railways. When Ed Miliband was the leader of our party, efforts to put immediate renationalisation in the manifesto were thwarted. One year on, and both Andy Burnham  and Jeremy Corbyn have promised to renationalise Britain’s railway network.  The debate has certainly shifted left, but could either Andy or Jeremy deliver on such a promise? I’m not so sure, as neither candidate have said how they would address the big obstacle that their promise faces: the European Union.

Undoubtedly EU law will be a huge obstacle to any renationalisation scheme – especially one that aims to do away with competition and markets. The EU is clear that its objective is “Opening up national freight and passenger markets to cross-border competition”. Its directives and regulations have created what can only be described as a legal quagmire.   

The main EU law in this area was the First Railway Directive (which was replaced and upgraded in 2012 with a new version). This was the original law that gave the Tories the excuse they needed to introduce their privatisation agenda in the nineties. That law enshrined the role of the private sector by making it a legal requirement for independent companies to be able to apply for non-discriminatory track access on a member state's track, calling for:

“separating [of] the management of railway operation and infrastructure from the provision of railway transport services, separation of accounts being compulsory and organizational or institutional separation being optional.”

The 2012 Directive has kept that principle and goes even further, and says that one of its aims is "to boost competition in railway service management". It also stipulates that: "Greater integration of the Union transport sector is an essential element of the completion of the internal market... The efficiency of the railway system should be improved, in order to integrate it into a competitive market".

In short, this means that multiple train operating companies must be allowed to use the same track competitively. In Germany it has resulted in the state-owned Deutsche Bahn facing more and more competition from other firms.

Provisions like this mean that, under Prime Minister Burnham or Prime Minister Corbyn, there would be huge legal obstacles in the way of renationalising the railways. How will any effort to block private operators be compatible with EU competition law, for example?

Some claim that “European rules do not dictate that railways must be fully privatised” – note the interesting use of the word “fully”. It’s true that UK law has gone further than the EU law currently requires, but it is also true that the EU would prevent a nationalisation agenda from going as far as many would like.

This is a problem that is only going to get worse with time. The EU is likely to pass even more laws in this area. Since 1991 the EU has introduced three railway packages, which have imposed numerous legal requirements on the member states. A fourth package is on its way – which will further open up domestic passenger services to competition. All of these laws limit a UK Government’s freedom of action and will bind the hands of a future Labour Government. 

It would be hyperbole to say that all efforts to renationalise the railways would be blocked by the EU, but it would be equally naïve to dismiss the problem. The facts are simple: the EU creates real legal problems for any nationalisation agenda and will bind the hands of a future Labour Government that attempts to deliver on such a manifesto policy. Honest politics demands detail: before they can give renationalisation a green light, we need to know exactly how the candidates plan to get the EU-shaped elephant off the tracks. 

Kate Hoey is MP for Vauxhall and co- chair of Labour for Britain.

 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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